Gabrielle McLaren and Jessica Luongo have succeeded not only academically, but also in their extracurriculars and community service at Polk State Chain of Lakes Collegiate High School, building foundations they need to positively impact mankind – or man’s best friend – as they pursue higher education and careers in medicine.
McLaren, valedictorian with a 4.742 grade-point average (GPA), and Luongo, salutatorian with a 4.705 GPA, received their Polk State Associate in Arts degrees May 2 with the College’s 120th graduating class and their high school diplomas May 17 with Polk State Chain of Lakes Collegiate’s 2019 class. They are heading to State University System institutions with Bright Futures Florida Academic Scholarships.
“I am not sure if I would be where I am today if I had not taken the leap to enroll at Collegiate,” McLaren said. “Some people may think collegiate high school is scary – that it’s too tough and no fun – but it’s completely possible to accomplish your goals here.”
McLaren plans to study animal sciences at the University of Florida and wants to become a veterinarian, inspired by her love for animals and family friends in the profession. Luongo will major in biomedical engineering at the University of South Florida and aspires to become a surgeon, inspired “to find solutions that will help people.”
Luongo was selected as a 2018 Sunshine State Scholar for her achievements in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) and received the 2019 Silver Garland Award in science, recognized for her research to treat Alzheimer’s disease, winning participation in HOSA – Future Health Professionals, and more than 510 community service hours – many in STEM-related activities.
McLaren was a nominee for a 2019 Silver Garland Award in citizenship, completing more than 380 volunteer hours through youth and church camps in Lake Wales.
In addition to their academic and volunteer achievements, McLaren and Luongo participated in National Honor Society, Key Club, Phi Theta Kappa International Honor Society, Academic Team, sports at their zoned high schools, and more.
“Get involved, make friends and study buddies, and take advantage of resources including the supportive faculty and staff,” McLaren offered as advice to students or prospective students considering a Polk State collegiate high school.
Luongo shared a similar sentiment.
“My advice to students is to look up to the class above them,” said Luongo, who was inspired to enroll at Polk State Chain of Lakes Collegiate by 2018 valedictorians Sujena and Rehana Koilpillai. She was a student in Haines City’s International Baccalaureate Program when she heard that, “two really smart girls were transferring to Collegiate and would graduate high school with college degrees.”
Polk State’s charter high schools allow juniors and seniors to complete courses and requirements for their diplomas and Associate in Arts degrees, which most students achieve simultaneously.
Both McLaren and Luongo reflected on their time at Polk State Chain of Lakes Collegiate as lifechanging and full of support from faculty, staff, and their peers.
“The transition from traditional high school to collegiate seemed scary, but it was worth it in the end,” McLaren said. “It has prepared us with college experience and knowledge of what we will be doing at the next level.”
They both thanked everyone who has supported them along the way.
“It’s important to reflect on everything and everyone that led up to this moment,” Luongo said. “Collegiate faculty and staff were always here to give us advice and the support we needed, and we are really grateful for that.”